OregonScape: Fall 2022

Issue 123:3

In the early 1920s, S.F. Zysset, a farmer from Cleo, Oregon, invented a stump burner to help clear land to build and farm. Previous methods, including “powder and puller” or the “char pit method,” were more labor- and time-intensive and often would not do a good job of destroying the below-ground root systems.

In the December 1922 issue of the Station Bulletin, a newsletter produced by the Oregon Agriculture College Experiment Station, authors note that anyone who can “start a fire in the kitchen stove can successfully set a stump afire with this new appliance.” The burner consists of a cast iron furnace, two hoods, and various-sized pipes for drafting. The burner works by turning the stump in to a stove — with a draft on one side and a chimney on the other. Earth is banked along the sides of the burner to control the fire and direct the coals and heat toward the roots as the stump burns. It is noted that one person can keep four burners going at a time but that green stumps are to be avoided as they burned inconsistently.

This still image, taken from a 1922 motion picture film that was also made by the Oregon Agricultural College Experiment Station, illustrates how the burner worked on a variety of stumps. The idea of a more efficient and cost-effective means of clearing stumps — especially one recommended by the Experiment Station — was incredibly popular. This demonstration, which took place in Corbett, Oregon, drew a crowd of 700 people to see the burner at work. 

— Matthew Cowan, OHS Moving Images and Photography Archivist